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Politics Explained

What will it mean for Boris Johnson if the 21 June lockdown easing date is missed?

Theresa May’s failure to meet various Brexit deadlines became something of a joke, writes Sean O’Grady, but Boris Johnson enjoys significantly more popularity than his predecessor

Wednesday 19 May 2021 22:25 BST
Unlike Theresa May, Mr Johnson will be able to carry parliament and avoid the scorn heaped on his predecessor
Unlike Theresa May, Mr Johnson will be able to carry parliament and avoid the scorn heaped on his predecessor (AFP/Getty)

Although somewhat more optimistic at Prime Minister’s Questions about the government’s Covid roadmap, in recent days Boris Johnson has been a striking a cautious tone about the next significant date, 21 June. This is the moment when, according to the official roadmap guidance, “the government hopes to be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact”. Specifically: “We hope to reopen remaining premises, including nightclubs, and ease the restrictions on large events and performances that apply in Step 3. This will be subject to the results of a scientific Events Research Programme to test the outcome of certain pilot events through the spring and summer, where we will trial the use of testing and other techniques to cut the risk of infection. The same Events Research Programme will guide decisions on whether all limits can be removed on weddings and other life events.”

Much obviously depends on how effective the vaccine programme will be against the spreading Indian variant of the coronavirus, which is becoming more prevalent. Last Friday the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, gave this assessment of the danger: “There is now confidence ... that this variant is more transmissible than B.1.1.7 (Kent variant), now the question in practical terms over the next two to three weeks is is this somewhat more transmissible than B.1.1.7 or is this a lot more transmissible and that will have implications for the long-term prospects of this epidemic in the UK and indeed the pandemic internationally?”

Now, the prime minister says that there is “increasing confidence” about the vaccines’ ability to fight the virus, and to prevent severe illness in individuals. The evidence will need to be sifted carefully in the coming days. It will come from the piloted mass outside events; from an analysis of the general relaxation measures already taken; about the effects of more international travel; about trends in infection, hospitalisation and deaths; the geographical spread from the hot spots; the efficacy of the vaccines for Indians and the wider community; and a more precise idea about the specific characteristics of the Indian virus.

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